Sunday, August 11, 2013

Detective Comics #69 (November, 1942)

"The Harlequin's Hoax!"
Writer: Joseph Greene
Pencils: Bob Kane 
Inks: Jerry Robinson  
Synopsis: Four men in Gotham City receive some very strange packages from the Joker. Charles Saunders receives a radio with no loudspeaker, Mr. Fordney an automobile with only three wheels, Richard Morse gets a telescope with no lens, and finally Jim Brown gets a clock with no hour hand. Despite the seeming nonsensical uselessness of these "gifts", the men are all shocked and horrified -- there is some meaning behind the Joker's seemingly random "generosity".
Meanwhile Bruce Wayne is on a date with Linda Page at an amusement park -- but when they go on the "parachute drop" the ride gets stuck with them hanging in the air! An hour goes by and it still hasn't been fixed, and then the Bat-Signal blares into the night sky! What's a guy to do? Well, Bruce releases his safety belt, and pretends to "fall" and then catch a cable and slide down it. Playing "shaken" he hurriedly leaves the amusement park, and Linda still stuck in the air. Responding to the call of duty? 1. Not being a dick to your date? 0.
At HQ, Gordon fills him in on the Joker's latest mad antics, and Batman (reasonably by this point) assumes there must be a pattern and a larger scheme at work here. But what??
That night, Joker easily robs a department store -- the alarms were all turned off, leading Batman to think it must have been an inside job. And what a coincedence -- Saunders works at the same department store! With that in mind, when Joker attempts to rob a camera store where Fordney is a superintendant - Batman and Robin are there to meet him! A quick fight later and they've actually caught him! Tied up in the back of the car, ready to be taken to the police! What the heck? There's still six pages left in this comic!
Well, Joker ignites a flashbulb making Batman think they've popped a tire (really, Batman?) and when the Dark Knight stops to take a look at it Joker manages to get away. It may be the most down-to-earth and yet somehow ridiculous Joker escape yet.
Anyways, Batman decides to check on his hunch of what connects the men with the gifts and quickly finds himself proven right. Saunders is deaf in one ear, Fordney has a wooden leg, Morse a glass eye, and Brown an artificial hand -- just like the radio with no speaker, the car missing a wheel, the telescope with no lens and the clock with no hand. Turns out the four men had been in an accidental explosion in another city which caused their injuries and lead to the death of two other men. They had been implicated in the deaths and acquitted, but the scandal had forced them to leave and set up shop in Gotham. Joker somehow found out and has been blackmailing them.
A flash on the radio reveals Morse has given into the Joker's demands, but Brown promises Batman he will go to the police. At that moment, Joker and his men burst into Brown's home. They overpower the heroes and handcuff them to the radiator, leaving them to die with a time bomb about to go off (of all the hackneyed things!)
Brown manages to get out of the handcuffs since, ya know, one of his hands is fake (weird that Joker would forget about that) and throws the bomb out the window. He lets Batman know that Joker is headed to an aircraft manufacturing plant.
There, Joker is going to steal the diamonds the plant uses for it's precision drilling and cutting. Batman and Robin show up to stop the theft, culminating in a dramatic battle in and around the assembly line of the plant! But at the end of the line are the finished planes and surprise surprise Joker uses one to escape! The End.
Wait, what?
My Thoughts: Another formulaic Joker story, although quite competently handled by Greene. The most interesting element is the wartime references -- Joker stealing cameras because they aren't being made anymore and thus valuable, Batman won't drive on a popped tire because it would ruin rubber that's in short supply, Joker raiding an fighter plane manufacturing plant, etc.
The Art: Absolutely nothing special at all here, in fact a little subpar, until we get to the chase through the factory, an unfortunately truncated two-page sequence that is awesome in its scope and superbly drawn (perhaps traced or otherwise based heavily on photoreference).
The Story: Greene handles the Joker formula better than in his last few appearances -- the random acts of mischief at the top are actually important throughout the whole story, the bigger crimes are consistent and build on each other, the clues actually progress and make sense, etc. It's nothing special really, just competent writing, but unfortunately competent writing reads like a breath of fresh air sometimes in Golden Age comics. What Greene gets right here is that Joker's scheme only seems crazy at the start, but is completely reasonable once we have all the facts.

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